Well, I am finally on my way to the Park, having changed my mind four or five times about exactly when I would leave.
It's 4:30PM, about 65 degrees. Although it's been unseasonably warm in Bozeman, there is still snow on the Bridgers, especially the high peaks. The Madison Range and the Gallatins are also quite snowy on top.
It's been a long time since I have driven to the Park in the afternoon and I find it especially nice. I get over the Pass easily and I'm now south of Livingston. The westering sun turns the mountains golden and spreads its soft light over the dry brown fields.
There are mulies all over Paradise Valley and more in Yankee Jim Canyon. I also see bighorn on the road: yearlings, ewes and some young rams.
This time of year is called the mud season but there has not been enough rain to make it muddy. It's more just brown season at the moment. I see a pair of Canada geese on the Yellowstone River, and there are bison and elk on both sides of the road in Corwin Springs. In fact I continue to see small herds of both these animals as I approach Gardiner.
I stop at the Super 8 to check in and drop off some stuff. They are such nice folk here. I am given a first floor room in the annex with a small fridge, so I'm all set.
Just inside the Arch many pronghorn greet me, and shortly after this I see a mixed group of elk, pronghorn and bison.
As I wind up Gardiner Canyon I notice the river is quite muddy, a sure sign that this unexpectedly warm weather is already melting snow up above.
I have my visit with Allison across from the campground in view of Kite Hill, and then place a call to Chloe & Becky. They are in Little America, at Boulder pullout, watching a single wolf, the black pup of the Junction Butte pack.
We decide to rendezvous at Hellroaring Overlook for a while, before meeting for dinner in Gardiner.
I head east over dry roads. Mammoth is deserted. There is snow on both sides of the road up to Undine, most of it on north-facing slopes. I stop for a moment at Blacktail Ponds. A bison cow died in the icy water way back before Christmas, drawing various scavengers, but then the penetrating cold and fallen snow in January and February put the carcass out of reach. Now, as the ice is beginning to thaw again, the scavengers are back.
There are ravens and a nervous coyote nearby at the moment. The coyote gives up and trots across the snowy sage, hopping expertly across the flooded spots.
At Children's Fire trail I pass a silver truck and belatedly realize it's Richard from Utah, heading in for the day. He greets me via the radio. It's good to know he is in the Park.
I notice a new frost-heave in the road heading down to the Elk Bowl. I can see some scrape marks from drivers who were likely going too fast!
At Hellroaring I get out to look at the amazing view from here. It's just beautiful and I relish it.
Soon a familiar Subaru pulls into the lot. It's Chloe & Becky! We have a great reunion and I hear about their adventures. Bill H is here, too, and since we have no wolves to watch, he obligingly finds us a black bear!
Bill says this bear has been seen in the Little Garnet area for a couple of days in a row. He guesses she's a sow, with cubs in a nearby den. He figures she's out for an early reconoiter. When I ask him more questions he says a male would more likely keep moving once it woke up. This bear is staying in the area because she has a reason - her cubs! Makes sense to me - and who would know better than Bill?
We scope a while and enjoy the day, then begin our drive back west. Just outside the Arch, Chloe spots a cottontail rabbit hopping past the side of the YA building. We immediately dub it the Easter Bunny!
We unload our stuff at the Super 8 and walk the short distance to The Mine, where we have a nice dinner, talking politcs and wolves and catching up with each other. Then we walk back under starry skies, passing a few local mule deer on the way.
Today I saw: a black bear, bison, a coyote, mule deer, elk, geese, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and the spirit of Allison.